According to Christopher Monfette of IGN.com, this is one Hangover that you won’t want to go away.
Almost more than any other genre, comedy is virtually critic-proof, completely and utterly subjective in the face of your own sense of humor. Nine times out of ten, a black cat leaping out of an alley will scare most people. More often than not, a weepy scene between loved ones parted by either distance or death will elicit an audience’s sympathy. But when it comes to comedy, unless there’s simply nothing of good, old-fashioned, laugh-out-loud value, anything beyond a guy slipping on a banana peel or taking a shot to the nuts – which are universally funny – is ultimately at the mercy of taste. And so, it turns out, the absence of funny can be measured; the presence of funny is entirely up to you.
With that in mind, if it were up to this critic, The Hangover would easily be praised as potentially the funniest comedy to hit theatres in the last few years. It’s been awhile since I remember having laughed this hard or having been so effortlessly amused by a movie, and where so many Bachelor Party-inspired comedies grab too quickly for the low-hanging fruit of nudity and vulgarity – neither of which are necessarily bad, mind you — The Hangover manages to create a clever mystery and real, honest-to-goodness characters in the midst of its many of shenanigans. And that’s a surprise, quite frankly, given what this Las Vegas-set comedy could easily have become, but despite a few pacing issues in the middle of the film, The Hangover rises above the trappings into which other, similar comedies have so often stumbled.
It’s the eve of Doug’s wedding, and so his two best friends, Phil and Stu (Bradley Cooper and Ed Helms), as well as his fiancé’s slightly off-balance brother, Alan (Zach Galifianakis), take Doug for a wild night in Vegas prior to the big day. And before you can say “What could possibly happen!?” the s**t gets real. Cut to twelve hours later when Phil, Stu and Alan wake up in a luxury suite, sans Doug, with a tiger in the bathroom, a baby in the closet, a stolen police car downstairs at the valet, and absolutely no memory of the previous evening. The big question is, “Where’s Doug?” but to answer that the gang has to retrace their steps from the night before, making The Hangover a kind of comedic mystery involving a hooker, an imprisoned Chinese mobster, a pissed-off Mike Tyson and an assortment of progressively stranger encounters. Also praiseworthy are the subtle, completely logical clues that the film provides the audience as to where Doug may have vanished, leaving the sharper-eyed viewers with a sense of accomplishment that they might have put things together before our main characters.
It’d be easy to simply set up an insane scenario, populating a room with animals and objects, and let the audience’s imaginations fuel the laughs – which, indeed, they do for the first portion of the film – but where The Hangover succeeds is in making the truth of what actually happened live up to the promise of the aftermath. That said, the film is admittedly funniest in its first half, but that director Todd Phillips and writers Jon Lucas and Scott Moore were able keep the back half as amusing as they did is as much a tribute to the film’s comedic chops as to the absolutely hysterical performances from Cooper, Helms and Galifianakis.
You’d be hard-pressed to name a better-matched comedy trio since Phillips’ own Old School back in 2003, but where Luke Wilson, Will Ferrell and Vince Vaughn seemed like separate elements competing for the comedy crown, these hungover friends work seamlessly together to earn and support almost every single laugh. Cooper is the likable but smarmy, self-obsessed pack-leader who, despite his ego, undoubtedly loves his buddies, while Helms plays the brow-beaten straight man with the domineering girlfriend. Galifianakis, however, completely steals the movie as the eccentric Alan, who may or may not be developmentally challenged…Make no mistake, this is the movie that will pull Galifianakis from the realm of the cult comedian into the mainstream, but one wonders if playing awkward, quasi-simpletons isn’t simply his trademark shtick. If so, it’ll certainly limit how far Galifianakis can go as an actor and calls into question whether he could ever carry a movie as a lead, but he’s just so damn funny that we can’t help but hope that he has a long, successful career in cinematic comedy ahead of him.
The only real failing of the film is its second act, which suffers from some minor pacing issues, and a 15-minute lull where the laughs simply aren’t as abundant. And that the determination regarding just where Doug disappeared to ultimately comes from a play on words during a seemingly random dialogue exchange – rather than from a legitimate clue – seems a bit too easy, like the writers were looking for a quick way to shift gears into the third act. Thankfully, however, the third act stuff – which could have felt as if the film had given up or lost its steam – actually regains some of the comedic punch of the opening moments, culminating in a series of photographs that’ll have audiences howling riotously in their seats throughout the credits.
The Hangover could easily have been a cheap, crass, throwaway comedy, but with a great cast and a solid director, audiences are about to get one of the most bankable, legitimately hilarious films we’ve seen in quite some time. With a possible sequel already given the greenlight, we’re hoping that this same group can capture lightning in a bottle one more time.
Perhaps this is an obvious question, but how is it that Pixar — no matter how high the expectations for their movies may be — almost always manages to trump those expectations? Sure, a DreamWorks or Blue Sky may come along with a Kung Fu Panda or Ice Age here or there and surprise everyone with success, but for Pixar, the only surprise is how their films work even better than you might have hoped they would.
And such is the case with their latest, Up, which opens this weekend in both standard and digital 3-D forms. We’d all heard good things about this one for some time now, and as it turns out, we heard right.>
Director Pete Docter (Monsters, Inc.) and writer-co-director Bob Peterson (co-writer on Finding Nemo) have further charted the course that the company set out on back in 1995 with Toy Story, mixing family entertainment with emotionally-dense storytelling that consistently one-ups, if you will, most of the live-action films Hollywood has been churning out for years now.
As with last year’s WALL.E, Up begins in a less conventional manner than one might expect from a mainstream animated film. WALL.E had its famous wordless first act, and now this picture features a similarly effective — and quite affecting — sequence early on depicting the lifelong relationship between lead characters Carl and Ellie as they meet, fall in love, marry, and eventually grow old together until one of them dies. Subtly, of course, so as to not freak out the kiddies in attendance.
The one who doesn’t die is Carl, voiced by Ed Asner. Having lost his bubbly Mary Tyler Moore, the pushing-80 Carl has nothing left in life to keep his spirits up, as they say. And yet while this geriatric animated character has taken an emotional licking, he keeps on ticking, working through his daily routine of getting out of bed, cleaning the house, dressing, and heading out to… sit on the porch, talking to his dear departed Ellie, who in his mind has come to be represented by the home the pair shared all those years.
But when a big-city real-estate developer manages to get Carl evicted from his house and sent to an old-age home, our elderly hero takes action. Former balloon salesman that he is, Carl turns the house into a flying contraption, lifted into the air by hundreds and hundreds of inflatables which enable the old man to float above his problems, if only for the moment. The initial shots of Carl’s flight are breathtaking and beautifully rendered as the character charts a course with his house-balloon for South America, site of his and Ellie’s childhood dreams of adventure.
Speaking of which, Carl soon finds that he’s got a stowaway onboard, a neighborhood kid named Russell (Jordan Nagai) who is all go-go-go, but who we slowly piece together is facing abandonment issues of his own. The not-quite-curmudgeonly (but not-quite-nice either) Carl has to take the boy under his grey wing once they arrive in South America, where the adventure the old guy had dreamed of his whole life immediately takes to interfering with his day-to-day. These exploits include encountering a pack of talking dogs (not talking in the traditional cartoon sense, but talking via electronic thingamabobs strapped to their collars), adopting a rare species of bird, and stumbling upon a Lindbergh-esque childhood hero of his who is amazingly still alive and looks a heckuva lot like Kirk Douglas (but is voiced by Christopher Plummer).
If the Plummer character winds up being perhaps a bit too commonplace by animated-film standards in his intentions and deeds, those dogs more than make up for it — especially the canine that “adopts” Carl, a mutt named Dug (voiced by co-director Peterson, who apparently did his canine research for the role). The lovable Dug instantly enters the canon of iconic Pixar characters, barking out lines like, “My name is Dug. I have just met you, and I love you,” and, “My master made me this collar. He is a good and smart master and he made me this collar so that I may speak. Squirrel!”
The design of these events is stunning throughout, with the climactic action scenes onboard the ersatz Douglas’ dirigible at least matched by the less flashy down-to-Earth shots of Carl dragging his slowly deflating house-balloon through the jungle. Oh-so-slightly deflated as well is one’s enthusiasm for the material late in the film, which becomes slightly more generic good-guy-vs.-bad-guy stuff when compared to the inspired opening sequences of the movie. And yet, in the end Up turns out to not be an action movie or a comedy or a kid’s film, or even necessarily a mere animated movie, but rather a beyond-the-grave love story between Carl and his lost bride. And if a tear or two is shed in the audience due to this heartfelt plotline, well, at least you’ll have your 3-D glasses to hide behind.
Most are too young to be even vaguely aware of Woodstock Music and Art Fair these days. But the impact of the three-day celebration of peace and music on a dairy farm in Bethel, New York back in 1969 marked the pinnacle of the hippie era and saw nearly half a million people descend on the 600-acre site. Acts included Janis Joplin, Joan Baez, The Who and Jimi Hendrix and the fest was an unprecedented event in music history.
Ang Lee’s Taking Woodstock is the tale of Elliot Tiber (oddly renamed Teichberg in the movie), president of the Bethel Chamber of Commerce, who held the only permit for a music festival in the area (he planned to put on a chamber music show) and invited the event’s organisers to the town when they were denied a permit in the nearby town of Wallkill. Based on his autobiography, we join him as a young man (Demetri Martin) struggling to maintain his parent’s motel business and coming to terms with his sexuality.
When he reads that the permit for the Wallkill has been pulled, he pitches the idea of bringing the festival to Bethel to promoter Michael Lang (Jonathan Groff). Before long, plans are underway to run the show on Max Yasgur’s farm, proving a much-needed investment of capital into Tiber’s motel, which the organisers use to house themselves and their offices while the show comes together.
The film is really about Elliot’s journey without moving. While struggling with his own identity and his responsibilities to his parents – a battleaxe mother (Imelda Staunton) and ailing father (Henry Goodman) – he welcomes an incredibly liberal collection of people to his town who teach him the value of personal identity. It’s an incredibly powerful theme punctuated brilliantly by Liev Schreiber as a transvestite ex-marine, of whom Elliot asks if his father understands what he is. He replies, “Honey, I know who I am. That should make it easier for everyone else.”
Maybe it’s not surprising to see a film with powerful homosexual themes from Lee, who was nominated for a Best Picture Oscar for Brokeback Mountain, but he explores the subject with an impressively deft hand, making Elliot’s journey remarkably genuine. The real Tiber was present for the Stonewall riots, which happened weeks before the film’s timeline begins, but Lee and screenwriter James Schamus focus their adaptation on a young man whose sexuality isn’t so assured before the film begins and allows the audience to take the film’s journey with him.
It’s not quite as successful in that respect as Almost Famous, another film about a young man’s journey into the world of live music, as Patrick Fugit’s character in that film is, perhaps, less affected by a history that isn’t spelled out within the film. But Taking Woodstock is as much about Elliot’s journey as it is about the foundations of the music festival. In the clash of big business and hippie ideals that gave birth to the show it’s a film both funny and engaging. On the sidelines, Emile Hirsch as a Vietnam vet and Paul Dano as an Acid-dropping hippie provide drama and comedy respectively, while Dan Fogler is hilarious as the leader of an alternative theatre troop whose main artistic contribution to the world seems to be to dance around naked.
When the festival kicks off, Elliot is nowhere near the action – if nothing else, clearing rights to that material would have been mighty tricky – but Lee gives a comfortable sense of scale in cleverly chosen CG shots mixed, predominantly, with vast scenes involving extras.
It may not be on a par with Brokeback, nor as powerful as Lust, Caution, but Taking Woodstock is another triumph for Ang Lee, a director whose resume gets more and more diverse with every project he tackles.
May 14, 2009 – There comes a point when you’ve innovated something as far as it can possibly go, added all that you could conceivably add, discovered all that there was to discover, so that nothing can ever again be new. For the most part, the con-man genre is like this, and if you draw a line back through cinematic history, you can trace the evolution of the double-cross in the most basic of terms. It began with a lie – one character deceiving another in such a way that the audience was in on the scam. And for awhile, the lie was enough. We were content to know exactly where the ball was at any point during the shell game. Whether the target would figure out the con was thrill enough for us. But then we got smarter, wiser, more demanding, and filmmakers delivered the triple-cross, or simply added another element to the con, shuffling around the shells at such a rate and speed that while the audience was aware of the deception, the conclusion was always surprising.
Then came the point at which the characters themselves were no longer sufficient victims. We’d gotten too good at spotting the bait-and-switch, the sleight-of-hand, and so the filmmakers were then forced to con us, the viewers. The story would seemingly end, the con would be revealed, and then, in a surprising twist on the twist, we would discover that somehow, in some way, we had been fooled, the final, unspoken players in the confidence game.
So con movies became clever while audiences became smarter and if we weren’t already a step ahead, we were hardly ever that far behind. Thankfully, Rian Johnson’s The Brothers Bloom injects some desperately needed vigor into this waning genre. The follow-up to Brick, Johnson’s ode to the “film noir” motif, Bloom is filled with first-rate scams, refreshing whimsy and incredibly well-layered performances, yet it aims to be something greater than simply another drop in the con-man bucket. It’s smarter than that, and the con being played upon the audience is that we’re watching a brilliant and thoughtful deconstruction of the genre without really knowing it.
The story of two brothers, Stephen and Bloom (played by Mark Ruffalo and Adrien Brody, respectively), the film follows their efforts to pull “One Last Con” on a mega-wealthy shut-in, Penelope Stamp (Rachel Weisz). Having shut herself up for years in her sprawling estate, the richest woman on the Eastern Seaboard has become a virtual outcast, studying and learning every craft from every book available to her. Stephen, who writes his cons with all the grace and symbolism of classic literature, is clearly in love with his work, both storyteller and character all at once, while Bloom seeks to lead what Stephen refers to as “an unwritten life.”
And it’s this basic premise – the ability to lead a life un-scripted by family or fate – that makes The Brothers Bloom perhaps the most entertaining and dare we say important con movie of the last several years, delivering consistently on all levels. Of course, Penelope quickly transcends the title of victim to join in on a bigger con – and it’s to Johnson’s credit that we’re never quite certain if the brothers are still playing her, if Stephen is playing Bloom, if somebody else is playing all of them, or if they’re all actually being honest with one another.
Johnson takes a sizeable step forward as a director with this film, which feels almost 180-degrees away from the dark, brooding tone of Brick. This is a colorful movie, full of grand sequences and vibrant set pieces. It moves quickly and freely, embracing a never-too-quirky sense of style that makes the story feel more in the vein of a Wes Anderson film – most especially the opening prologue. The banter is quick and smart and poignant, and each actor rises effortlessly to their character.
It’s likely that audiences have yet to see the uber-dramatic Ruffalo in a role quite this light, and while Stephen certainly passes through his fair share of drama throughout the film, Ruffalo shows a side of himself that’s considerably less intense and vastly more accessible than his more gruff, tortured roles. His relationship with Brody, his brother, is wonderfully complex – full of love and loathing – and, in turn, Brody’s relationship with Weisz is breezily romantic. And yet, each of these pairings are obscured by the constant presense of “the con” and we’re never fully able to trust our footing in any given situation.
There is no excessively self-clever ending to Bloom – the film simply isn’t as concerned with executing the perfect con as it is with watching it fall apart – and somewhere in between the drama and comedy, the whimsy and the tragedy, the idea of the “unwritten life” is ever-present. The Brothers Bloom will undoubtedly have a place among the better, if not the best, films about con-men, but it’s also a film about family and trust and the limits of both. Do yourself a favor and give yourself over to the shell game because it doesn’t matter where the ball turns up, so much as that you played at all.
Read the Star Trek review courtesy of Jay Stone of canada.com
J.J. Abrams’ re-invention of the venerable sci-fi saga presents the origins of Kirk (Chris Pine), Spock (Zachary Quinto) and the rest of a familiar cast. It’s a nice, unpretentious adventure that will delight the fans. Even those who know nothing about the franchise except the phrase “Beam me up, Scotty” may find themselves turning into late-stage Trekkies.
Starring: Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Eric Bana, Bruce Greenwood, Simon Pegg
Rating: four stars out of five
People who enjoy science fiction say that it helps illuminate the human condition, to which I reply: If you want to illuminate the human condition, turn on the light in the bedroom.
I’m not sure what we’re supposed to have learned, for instance, from all the “I’m your father, Luke” business in Star Wars. Except that if you go into dad’s line of work, you’re going to want to kill him sometimes, and if you wanted to know that, you could just have asked anyone in a family business.
Which is another reason to enjoy Star Trek, a movie version of the venerable sci-fi saga that touches on several universal themes — fathers and sons, sons and mothers, Romulans and Vulcans — without getting all illuminate-the-human-condition about it.
I’m not sure how faithful it is to the many Star Trek movies and TV shows that preceded it, because I’ve never seen one: everything I know about Star Trek (“Live long and prosper,” and “Phasers on stun”) I picked up vicariously from the cultural ozone.
When the engineer named Scotty (Simon Pegg) says, “I’m giving it all she’s got, captain,” the resulting audience laughter lets you know that this is another Trekkie phrase, cheered for its familiarity.
Star Trek is very much like that, but even for us newcomers — people who have been living under rocks, as opposed to those who have been living in their parents’ basements — it’s nevertheless an adventure with lots of high technology, high spirits and a low sense of self-importance. There are no papier-mache rocks falling on Captain Kirk, but there’s enough papier-mache dialogue to ensure he’s in constant, if cartoonish, peril.
The movie begins with a Superman-like origins story: a father on a dying planet (or in this case, a crashing vessel) sends his only son to Earth to become the hellraising Capt. James T. Kirk (Chris Pine, winner of the Christian Slater sound-alike contest), who is on his way to becoming the Capt. Kirk we know and love. Pine is no William Shatner, but give him 40 years and a few good meals, and he might make it.
We also learn about the origins of Spock (Zachary Quinto from Heroes), a half-Vulcan, half-human whom we meet reciting things like “four-thirds pi times radius cubed,” an early sign of his logic-based genius. Spock, who does things with his eyebrows that we haven’t seen since Theda Bara went into retirement, will grow up to be Leonard Nimoy, who makes a featured appearance in the film — much cheering and laughter — as his future self.
This is the sort of thing that could drive more ambitious space movies to a doctoral thesis on the time-space continuum, but in Star Trek, it’s just another wacky bit of interstellar life: phasers on fun!
The plot has Kirk stowing away on the USS Enterprise, captained by Bruce Greenwood, as it speeds into space and a confrontation with a long, stringy spaceship under the control of Nero (Eric Bana), a Romulan with facial tattoos and a murderous disposition: he looks like someone who got lost on the way to Mad Max.
Nero is out to get Spock because of something he did to Romulus, or maybe it was Remus. In any event, he’s set on blowing up planets by pouring “the red matter” into their cores, creating a black hole.
There are several large explosions and lots of fights on narrow platforms that have no railings — the cosmos is not a friendly place for older people — and a nice turn by Pegg, who brings a comic sensibility that pulls Trek a degree or two toward self-parody, although not too far (the formula, I believe, is four-thirds pi times radius cubed.)
Every time I see one of these space epics, I’m reminded of the Mel Brooks plan to do a satire that would be called Intergalactic Mishigas. There’s a bit of that in Star Trek, but not too much: director J.J. Abrams has found a balance between excitement and knowingness. Beam me up, Scotty, and give it all she’s got.
“He’s strong to the finish, ’cause he eats his spinach…”
Usually the above jingle would culminate, naturally, with: “He’s Popeye the sailor man!” But it comes to mind when discussing the highly entertaining Crank High Voltage not only because of the film’s overtly cartoonish approach, but also for its main character’s constant reliance on an external energy source in order to get the job done. Of course, whereas our favorite cockeyed sailor only needed a can of green vegetables in order to pummel Bluto, High Voltage’s Chev Chelios requires something a bit more modern — namely electricity, and lots of it.
That’s somehow appropriate given the videogame and pop-culture influences of the Crank series. The first film also starred Jason Statham as Chelios, a hitman looking to retire who has the craziest day of his life when he’s poisoned by a rival and must keep his adrenaline flowing in order to stay alive long enough to find his “killers.” Or at least, that was his craziest day before this sequel kicked in, which picks up at the exact moment of the first film’s final moments when Chelios plummeted from a helicopter and crashed to the street below — and seemingly survived.
As High Voltage begins, a band of Triad gangsters make off with Chelios’ unconscious body and quickly perform some makeshift open-heart surgery in the back of a massage parlor. The super-heart of Chelios is removed, apparently for its intrinsic value, and replaced with a mechanical pumper that has a very limited lifespan. Three months pass, and Chelios finally makes his escape from these villains when he realizes that his captors are planning on harvesting the rest of his organs — including his “horse c@$k.”
So the superhuman Chelios must find his heart, but he soon realizes that he has to keep his artificial ticker powered up in order to continue the sprinting, fighting, and killing that takes place almost nonstop over the course of the film’s hour-and-a-half running time. That leads to the electricity previously mentioned, which is derived from all manner of sources — tasers, car batteries, power plants, and so on. It also leads to the over-the-top cartoonishness of it all, as any semblance of reality is drained from the film like a car that’s had its headlights on all night.
And let’s take a moment to thank writer-directors Brian Taylor and Mark Neveldine for not feeling the urge to keep these proceedings “real” at all, because that’s what makes the film so much fun and separates it from the typically mechanical and repetitious action genre. We’ve got a whole summer’s worth of that junk coming at us soon enough, thank you very much.
Based on the BBC miniseries of the same name, State of Play is as much an elegiac swan song to print journalism as it is a gripping political thriller. But State of Play is more than just a paean or whodunit; it is really about moral compromises. The story — scripted by Tony Gilroy (Michael Clayton), Matthew Carnahan (Lions for Lambs) and Billy Ray (Breach) — follows overweight, slovenly but dogged Washington Globe investigative reporter Cal McAffrey (Russell Crowe) as he discovers that a string of seemingly unrelated murders are all connected.
Worse, the unfolding case embroils his old college pal, Congressman Stephen Collins (Ben Affleck), in a sex-and-murder scandal that threatens to extinguish his once-promising political career. Is Collins the killer of his staff member and mistress Sonia Baker (Maria Thayer), or is PointCorp. — the private military company that Collins has been investigating in televised congressional hearings — really behind it? The closer that Cal and his partner, blogger and aspiring “serious” journalist Della Frye (Rachel McAdams), get to finding out the truth behind Sonia’s slaying the more dangerous it gets for them and their already imperiled newspaper as cops, power brokers, spin doctors and soldiers of fortune all come gunning for them.
Every character in State of Play is compromised to varying degrees: Cal is too close to Stephen to understand how much he’s blurred the lines between media and politics, and his friendship with Stephen’s wife Anne (Robin Wright Penn) may also be closer than it seems; Collins’ moral shortcomings are obvious from the plot synopsis, with his idealism being stronger than his integrity; Della comes from a new breed of reporter (“bloodsuckers and bloggers,” as the film calls them) who are more important in being “first!” than in being good at what they do; and Globe Editor in Chief Cameron Lynne (Helen Mirren) seems to be losing the battle between balancing her journalistic principles with the commercial necessities of keeping her paper’s owners happy. No one comes off looking too heroic or clean in State of Play, a gutsy move on the part of a major studio production to keep it real.
The cast is excellent across the board. Crowe owns the movie as the slobby but sly reporter who relies on old-fashioned tools such as notepads, door-to-door interviews and schmoozing all the right people (mostly cops) who can supply him with information. This could be the movie that makes audiences fall in love with Crowe again after a spell of flops and bad publicity. Affleck gives his best performance in years (if not ever) as Collins, although the nearly unanimous opinion among those who have seen the film is that it’s simply unbelievable to buy fortysomething Crowe and thirtysomething Affleck as former college roommates. One line change (e.g., Cal worked on Stephen’s campaign or was his T.A. in college or grad school) could have dispelled that entirely justifiable criticism. It also doesn’t help that Penn is closer to Crowe’s age than Affleck’s (all three characters knew each other in college). Penn plays Anne’s wounded pride well in a disappointingly small role.
Click on the link below to read the entire review:
Paul Rudd is hilariously in the this bromance comedy about a dork that just wants to fit in, but try as he may – he always gets it wrong.
In I Love You, Man, which is by far the best Judd Apatow comedy that Judd Apatow had nothing at all to do with, Paul Rudd gives a startlingly funny and original performance as a nice guy with serious dweebish tendencies, and the delight of what Rudd does here comes down to how exquisitely embarrassing he is to watch. He makes you wince in hilarity. Rudd, in films like Role Models and Wet Hot American Summer, has been a wiseass par excellence, and maybe it took a wiseass to play a dork with this much merciless understanding. His Peter Klaven is an L.A. real estate agent (he’s selling Lou Ferrigno’s mansion) who has just gotten engaged, an event that forces him to confront the fact that he has no male friends. Who will be his groomsmen? His best man?
That sounds like a fairly mild predicament to hang a movie on, but the resonant joke of I Love You, Man is that the reason Peter has no pals is that he’s too sweetly sincere, too in touch with his sensitive side, to indulge in the gloriously insensitive modes of male bonding: the reckless sex chatter and sports talk, the need to be a guy, a dude. Peter meets Sydney (Jason Segel), who seems like natural buddy material, and the two begin to hang out. But the more Peter tries to get down with his masculine self, the more our jaws drop at how bad he is at it. He does agonizingly out-of-date SNL routines as if they signified he was ”in the know,” he says things like ”me slappa da bass” in a ”reggae” accent, and when his new friend nicknames him Pistol, he names him back — and sounds like a complete idiot jackass.
The filmmakers of the latest haunted house flick, The Haunting in Connecticut actually finds a way to make the sound effects sound and feel scary and the actors do a good job as well.
The latest horror film “based on a true story” — the facts of which are documented here — The Haunting in Connecticut follows the Campbell family, who move into a Victorian house in upstate Connecticut in order to be closer to where their teenage son receives his cancer treatments.
Matt (played by Kyle Gallner, known to fanboys as Bart “Flash” Allen in Smallville) is slowly dying from the disease. His mom Sara (Virginia Madsen) and recovering alcoholic dad Peter (Martin Donovan) can barely accept this grim reality as they struggle to make ends meet amidst mounting medical bills. Trouble begins almost as soon as the Campbells move into their new home.
Matt is plagued by disturbing visions of a boy not much younger than himself, but he’s reluctant to admit it because he fears the disease has progressed to his brain or that the drugs he’s on aren’t working and he’ll be removed from his clinical trial. Meanwhile, the family discovers an embalming chamber in their home and a collection of creepy photos of corpses, and realize that their new home was a funeral parlor back in the 1920s. Noises, disturbances and other assorted scary incidents mount and the family realize they’re under attack from beyond the grave. The ghostly boy Matt has been seeing is that of Jonah, the clairvoyant son of the former funeral home owner, who acts as a gateway for the dead to cross over into the realm of the living.
I’ve been watching a slew of ghost movies and supernatural films lately, and even the best of them aren’t really all that terrifying so much as they are creepy and disturbing or a collection of amusement park “scares.” The haunted house movie, in particular, has been done to death; if there’s one thing they’ve taught us, it’s the bigger the house and the more remote its location then the worse your haunting will be. (How come no one is haunted by ghosts when they move into a studio apartment in Van Nuys?) Nowadays, the scariest thing about these big old houses is how much their value has plummeted.
That said, The Haunting in Connecticut is a relatively effective scary movie despite its overall formulaic nature. The actors, sound effects, and ghoulish makeup compensate when the story takes turns into more familiar territory. Sure, we’ve heard creaks and thumps and wooshes and wails in plenty of other ghost movies, but the filmmakers actually find a way here to make them sound scary again. Director Peter Cornwell ratchets up the tension, maintaining a consistent level of chills for the duration of the movie before it ultimately buckles under the weight of its effects-heavy finale.
The film has very human and relatable characters at its core — a family that was already in peril due to the terminal illness of a family member — that keeps the viewer engaged in the story even as things grow more fantastical.
Julia Roberts and Clive Own shine in Duplicity, which debut in theaters this weekend.
If you’re going to see one Julia Roberts movie this year…
Well, it should be this one. Not that Roberts necessarily has a bunch of other pictures on her slate for 2009, but let’s face it: The actress, once the darling of Hollywood who burst onto the scene with the charmer Mystic Pizza some 21 years ago, has gotten a little long in the tooth in recent times. Maybe it was that grueling Oscar acceptance speech for Erin Brockovich, or perhaps it was just a case of audiences getting too much of a good thing, but for some of us the once and future Pretty Woman hasn’t been as welcome a sight lately as she once was.
Now she’s jumping back into the spotlight after a bit of a hiatus, but fortunately for us — and for the superstar actress too perhaps — she’s doing it in style by teaming with writer-director Tony Gilroy on the espionage comedy Duplicity, which opens this weekend. Coming off the success of 2007′s Oscar nominated Michael Clayton as he is, Gilroy was poised with this follow-up to perhaps suffer from the classic sophomore slump syndrome. But he’s dodged that bullet as deftly as one of his Duplicity characters might outsmart a fellow corporate spy, and Roberts and her costar Clive Owen both come out looking like champs as a result.
Owen plays Ray Koval and Roberts is Claire Stenwick, MI6 and CIA agents respectively who first bump into one another — and bump uglies — in 2003 in Dubai, upon which Claire promptly outsmarts, drugs, and steals some precious documents from her counterpart. It’s spy-love at first sight, and through a series of interweaving flashbacks (and occasional flash-forwards) Gilroy slowly pieces together for the audience how Ray and Claire got from there to here.
Here being present-day Manhattan, where they’ve both entered the private sector of the espionage business, working for opposing cosmetics manufacturers who guard their lotion and cream secrets as vigorously as a government does its nuclear launch codes. Ray works for Paul Giamatti’s angry upstart exec and Claire is on the team of Tom Wilkinson’s old-guard boss across town, though as the film proceeds and the weaving plot reveals more and more about what has happened since that fateful time in Dubai in 2003, the question of who is working for who becomes increasingly confusing. The only thing we seem to know for sure is that Giamatti and Wilkinson hate each other fiercely, a fact which is illustrated in a loving slow-motion ballet during the opening credits.
Ultimately the labyrinthine plot is only secondary anyway to the movie-star turns by the, as it happens, movie stars in residence, Owen and Roberts. The real star, which gives the two their power of course, is Gilroy’s snappy, screwball-comedy-esque dialogue and scripting. It has its leads sparring with one another as much as — if not more than — they’re speaking sweet nothings to each other. As a matter of fact, it may be that the closest they get to sweet nothings is the duo’s constant threats to walk out on one another. Either that or Roberts’ propensity for taking her underwear off. .